Connecticut commuters to face fare hike to take effect next month
Published 4:40 pm, Wednesday, December 28, 2011
On Tuesday night, Joseph Escoto expressed surprise about the upcoming 5 1/4 percent fare increase to be added to his monthly commutation ticket next month.
Escoto, a 33-year-old employee of a city financial firm who travels to Stamford from Manhattan said he considered it unfair to initiate a fare hike given the New Haven Line's aging fleet of cars.
"I had no idea the fares were going up," Escoto said. "People are so busy working these days they probably didn't realize this fall it was going to happen."
Starting Jan. 1, Connecticut rail commuters will see a 5 1/4 percent increase in their ticket prices, the first of three consecutive fare increases for New Haven Line service over seven years that will raise prices more than 19 percent.
CTTransit riders face fare increases of 12 percent over the next three years, under the fare increase plan.
The fare increase includes a series of 1 percent price increases enacted by the General Assembly to help pay for the state's new fleet of 425 M-8 rail cars that are still being delivered.
For most rail commuters, the fare hike will mean a 75 cent increase in the cost of a peak hour ticket, and will add between $13 to $21 to the price of a monthly ticket.
On Tuesday evening at the Stamford rail station, train riders expressed a mixture of surprise, disapproval and indifference to the change.
"If it needs to go up, it needs to go up," said Paul Gruedl, who commutes into Stamford to work at a downtown restaurant. "I don't have much of an opinion."
The fare hikes, which were finalized in September, were first proposed under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's doomsday budget after state workers rejected more than $1 billion in concessions.
State workers eventually ratified the concessions package, but the state still approved 4 percent fare increases to take effect each January for the next three years.
Malloy administration and transportation officials defended the increases as justified given the state's investment of $1 billion for new railcars and an ongoing project to replace the New Haven Line's catenary system.
The fare increase will be the first since 2005.
"After seven years of holding the line on fares, we believe this series of modest increases is completely justified," DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said. "During the past seven years, Connecticut has made significant investments in its rail infrastructure. New M-8 rail cars are being delivered every month. New equipment means better and more reliable service. That, in our view, justifies the increase."
State Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-143rd District, said lawmakers still questioned the reason behind the double digit fare hike after workers accepted a concession deal to save the state $1.6 billion over two years and using what some view as a belated investment to revamp the overhead catenary system and replace worn out railcars to justify moving forward with the hikes.
Lavielle said the state should maintain and not cut the $37 million in rail subsidy for the New Haven Line to demonstrate a commitment to maintain and improve service on the line.
In the coming legislative session Lavielle will propose a bill to prevent lawmakers if they attempt to divert funds from the state's rail subsidy to cover other general government costs.
Led by strong ridership growth on the New Haven Line, Metro-North is expected to surpass that of the Long Island Railroad to become the nation's busiest rail line in 2012.
Michael Salem, a Larchmont, N.Y. resident who commutes to Stamford, said he believes the increase in his monthly ticket price to and from Stamford from $87 to $91.50 is modest.
"I don't think it's very much given how long we haven't had a fare increase," Salem said.